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As Pelosi eyes trip to Taiwan, US worried about red lines in China

#Pelosi #eyes #trip #Taiwan #worried #red #lines #China

A possible visit to Taiwan by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is sparking concern in President Joe Biden’s administration, which fears the trip could cross red lines for China — and that there is no way out.

China warned Monday that it was “preparing” for a Pelosi visit to the self-governing island next month and that the United States would bear “entire responsibility for any serious consequences” if she left.

Biden was open about concerns last week, saying the U.S. military opposes travel by Pelosi, a fellow Democrat who is second in line to the presidency after the vice president.

Congress is constitutionally an equal branch of government, with legislators free to travel where they choose. But the government fears losing nuance over Beijing, which sees rising American support for Taiwan as part of a conspiracy to enforce the declared independence of the territory it claims.

The trip could come at a particularly difficult time as President Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader in decades, prepares to consolidate his rule at a major party meeting later this year amid economic headwinds.

Pelosi has not confirmed a visit, but told reporters last week it was “important for us to show support for Taiwan,” while denying that Congress is pushing for independence.

Taiwan enjoys bipartisan support in divided Washington, and China’s warnings have only fueled calls for Pelosi to go ahead.

“Speaker Pelosi should go to Taiwan, and President Biden should make it clear to Chairman Xi that there is absolutely nothing the Chinese Communist Party can do about it,” Republican Senator Ben Sasse said.

The Biden administration has identified Beijing as its biggest global competitor but has also increasingly spoken of “guard rails” to prevent tensions from spiraling out of control, with the two powers’ top diplomats holding cordial talks in Bali this month.

– Risk of a “dramatic” reaction –

The Biden administration faces “a real problem because when they back down, when they try to stop Pelosi, they look weak and like they’re giving in to Chinese pressure tactics — and China is a tyrant,” Robert Sutter said. China expert at George Washington University.

China has had mixed reactions to Taiwan convention visits, “but this one looks pretty serious,” he said.

“They might feel like if Pelosi actually ends up in Taipei, they have to do something dramatic.”

Before the party meetings, Xi could calculate that the trip “has crossed its threshold” and it is time to show strength towards Taiwan, Sutter added.

China’s defeated nationalists fled to Taiwan in 1949, which has since blossomed into a thriving democracy and technology leader. CIA chief Bill Burns said last week Xi appears committed to the option of using force, despite lessons learned from Russia’s fighting in Ukraine.

The United States shifted its ties from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, and subsequent administrations have been careful to recognize only “one China” by not sending senior officials to Taiwan.

A former House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, attended in 1997, but the Republican was from the rival White House party and Beijing’s response was relatively muted.

Gingrich on Monday criticized the Pentagon for warning about Pelosi’s visit, writing on Twitter: “If we’re so intimidated by the Chinese communists that we can’t even protect an American speaker of the House of Representatives, why would Beijing think we’re protecting Taiwan at the… can help survive?”

Pelosi is a longtime China critic who befriended the Dalai Lama and outraged her Beijing hosts in 1991 by unfurling a banner in Tiananmen Square in memory of the pro-democracy protesters killed there two years earlier.

– Ex-officials call for rethinking –

As Beijing rises, Washington has shed some previous reservations about Taiwan. Biden said the United States stands ready to militarily defend Taiwan if it invades — going beyond simply providing weapons — although the White House has retracted his comments.

Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State under Donald Trump, during a visit to Taipei in March urged the United States to recognize the “unmistakable, pre-existing reality” of Taiwan’s independence.

Mark Esper, a defense secretary under Trump, said last week after his own visit to Taiwan that the one-China policy was “phased out,” noting that most Taiwanese no longer identify as Chinese.

But former national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, speaking after Esper at the Aspen Security Forum, said the one-China policy has “actually served us pretty well” by keeping tensions low.

“Let’s not make that the Soviet Union 2.0. Let’s remember that this was a China that was on the road to integration and there is still much at stake as to what is happening with the international economy,” Rice said.

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